ANOTHER nice thing you can do with a beard is stroke it thoughtfully, making yourself appear scholarly.
Indeed, rubbing my chin is the best tactile substitute yet for pipe smoking, which I abandoned several years ago when the office became a no-smoking preserve.
But then there are those crumbs from lunch . . .
. . . Oh, excuse me. There I go ruminating again on the pros and cons of facial hair.
This internal debate has dragged on for several months, ever since I returned unshaven from a week's sailing trip.
"Hmmmmm, looks pretty raffish," I said to myself, staring into the bathroom mirror the first morning I had to return to work. More than a few white and gray hairs gave me a Sean Connery look, I fancied.
So after a quick trim of the cheeks, where not enough hair grows to produce a full beard in a year, I went to the office sporting a pretty respectable start on a mustache-and-chin beard.
It remains still, if for nothing else than this: How often can a 40-plus male get people commenting upon his appearance? At least, not for that middle-aged bulge rolling over the belt.
"It's all part of my mid-life crisis," I joked to the fashion writer who critiqued the new facade. "I figure if I change my looks, maybe I can change my life."
"Honey, women have been trying that with their hair for years. Doesn't work," she counseled.
Even Bill Cosby has observed advancing years bring new growths of hair all over, especially the ears. In my case, nearing 45 has finally produced a facial bloom.
This time out, people know I have a beard. They just don't know what to call it.
"Ah, Mr. Fu Manchu," quipped a library researcher, alluding to the fictional Chinese villain once portrayed by Peter Sellers.
No, it's not a Fu Manchu. A Fu Manchu is pointy and droopy and altogether sinister.
"Maynard G. Krebs, right?" said another reporter, alluding to Bob Denver's beatnik goatee in the Dobie Gillis series.
But nope, mine is not a goatee, either. That brush is named after the chin whiskers of a goat, and lacks both the mustache and connecting hair around my mouth.
A Van Dyke, maybe? I thought so until I looked it up. This beard style was named after the Flemish painter Sir Anthony Van Dyke, who portrayed many of his characters with a neatly trimmed 'round-the-mouth beard. But it is much too pointy.
An English acquaintance resorted to French slang, and called my distinguished growth a poulet de coupe. Translation? Er, literally it means "chicken cut," but he rendered it more bluntly, more or less as the aft end of a chicken.
Thanks. But I recently decided to call it a "Riker" beard.
Do you get the reference? It looks just like the growth donned by actor Jonathan Frakes in the second season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (although he later grew side whiskers, too).
He's the steely executive officer of the starship Enterprise. Now isn't that a nice image for my steely new look?
My beard boldly goes where this face has not gone before.
Steve McKerrow is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.